California Town OKs Destruction Of Police Shooting Records Days Before They Could Be Obtained By The Public

from the cops-and-the-people-that-serve-them dept

California has long protected police officers from accountability. Most police misconduct records are impossible to obtain via public records requests. The restrictions covering these personnel files even prevent defense attorneys and prosecutors from accessing them, allowing cops with lousy track records for telling the truth present testimony as if they’ve never committed a misdeed or told a lie.

After years of legislative surrender to police union pressure and an overall deference to all things law enforcement, this year’s model finally managed to get a records reform bill to land on the governor’s desk. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2019, opening up access to a number of records Californians have never seen.

Under SB-1421, law enforcement agencies are required to provide public access to records related to use of force, sexual assault complaints, and dishonesty in investigations and reporting of a crime.

Faced with impending accountability, police departments are readying themselves for mass releases of previously withheld data. Oh, wait. The opposite of that.

Inglewood City Council approved the destruction of records that have been in the police department’s possession — more than 100 cases — longer than required by law. The city staff report and council resolution describing the action makes no mention of the new police transparency law. Instead it says the affected records are “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the police department.” It added the traditional method of destroying such records is to shred them.

Yes, it’s merely a coincidence that records the Inglewood PD has held onto for years — “longer than required by law” — are being destroyed days before the new transparency law goes into effect. It’s all so innocent and devoid of subterfuge the city council did it in secret with zero public notice or input.

No video or audio of the Dec. 11 council action is available on the city’s website and neither are meeting minutes or any record of the decision.

It affects far more than records the PD has retained for years. The authorization from the Inglewood council will allow the PD to destroy all Internal Affairs investigations from 2004-2012 and all Use of Force reports from 2015-2016.

The mayor continues to argue this is all routine city business and has nothing to do with the mandatory transparency going into effect January 1.

“It’s actually quite routine for us to do records destruction,” [Mayor James T. Butts Jr.] told ABC 7’s Eyewitness News. “The Finance Department, the Police Department and other entities — whenever they want to destroy records that exceed a time limit — they submit a staff report to the City Council and the City Council approves or disapproves the records destruction.”

No doubt this statement is true. But this move, with this timing, does nothing to restore years of shattered trust. The Inglewood PD has stonewalled the public for two years, refusing to release info about the killing of two residents by police officers who encountered them passed out in a parked vehicle. The PD was also investigated by the DOJ, which found officers routinely deployed excessive force and were overseen by department management that often cleared officers of wrongdoing after little or no investigation.

The PD’s decision to destroy records it has held onto for years only days before they may have become publicly-accessible only further adds to the “bunker mentality” perception noted in the DOJ’s investigation. The PD wishes to remain a closed shop despite the new law. This move — and the city’s approval — lets residents know the city isn’t interested in accountability or transparency, no matter what the new law says.

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Comments on “California Town OKs Destruction Of Police Shooting Records Days Before They Could Be Obtained By The Public”

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Richard says:

Re: Re: Inglewood?

Are you trying to be funny?
"In a democracy, you get the government you deserve?"
Governments that act in an undemocratic fashion is the problem
subverting the clear will of the people, which in this case is transparency with our policing
You turn around and blame the demos
the people
we fucked up! Well of course! We just aren’t doing the democracy right!
You’ve heard too much shitty reasoning and are parroting it. Either that or I’m responding to a bot or paid speech, which I doubt in this case.
Saying that we’ve "got the government we deserve" is:
1) An establishment narrative that comforts the powerful
2) A way to derail and delegitimize any criticism of the powerful
3) a feeling statement based on no evidence that you let us see, much less data

thule says:

democracy in action

{Inglewood City Council approved the destruction of records}

… sounds like our beloved American democratic process in action, right?
That city council officially represents all the citizens of Inglewood … so this records-destruction is exactly what the citizens of Inglewood want, right?

Or do you have some weird suspicion that local/state/federal government officials often act against the will & best interests of the citizens?
What’s your solution?

Nathan F (profile) says:

It’s all so innocent and devoid of subterfuge the city council did it in secret with zero public notice or input.

No video or audio of the Dec. 11 council action is available on the city’s website and neither are meeting minutes or any record of the decision.

This… is almost certainly in violation of Open Meetings laws and nothing that was ‘approved’ at that meeting has any legal strength. I expect to see a lawsuit regarding the destruction of records sometime soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

assuming there can be nothing done to the impenetrable police shield, can the members of the council be held to account for agreeing to this destruction of records? they obviously knew of the new law coming in and the time frame for it just as they knew what they were doing was purposeful obstruction. perhaps if those council members could be held accountable, it would make others think twice? just saying.

Anonymous Hero says:

Public DB

> Instead it says the affected records are “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the police department.”

This could all be very true (especially that last one). However, there should be a public, searchable database of these records.

Obsolete – Records can’t become obsolete. They are recorded and that’s that. They may be old, but they’re not obsolete.

Valuable Space – We can free up the police department’s valuable space by hosting the files in the public database.

Not value to dept – But they have value to the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

California has laws about meetings, Brown act violations can have very unexpected consequences,

California also has weird retention laws. There’s no, you must keep records for 7 years or whatever, that I’m aware of here. It’s not my job to know that law so I could have it wrong but I’m pretty sure retention is what you decide it is.

I’m amazed at the shenanigans that city’s pull. It may be that most are honest and play by the rules, it’s just that it often doesnt seem that way.

Moby (user link) says:

Re: cpra

California does have a law very similar to the federal version. It’s called the California Public Records Act (CPRA). It holds audio has to be kept a minimum of 100 days, print for 2 years. After that, individual agencies can setup destruction policies to their agency specific needs; excepting that if a record exists it is releasable regardless of timelines, barring any other exemption statutes.

William Chandler says:

Victim Memorial

Under construction/development. Feel free to run with it:
Mandatory Law needed: The Abused Civilian Victim Apology Law:
Any time the police botch a raid on the wrong house, murder a Civilian for no cause, recklessly injure, kill, a Civilian, and other false arrests where their TAXPAYER FUNDED body-cameras “just happen” to not work, and every other screw-up situation ……. EVERY cop anywhere in the area shall assemble, “Take a Knee” and cover their hearts with their covers in apology. with their cars flashing lights ……………….. The same actions will take place for Civilian funerals.
A prominent memorial to be erected in every large city dedicated to the innocent victims of abusive and corrupt police. Annually, a day of reflection and regret. on date (May 26th?) to be determined, there will be a Civilian Victim Day whereupon EVERY cop will assemble at said monument to meditate and reflect on Murdered Civilians and again kneel, doff covers, and pray to God for forgiveness.
There will be mandatory monthly ethics classes on such subjects as “Negative Effect on Society of Perjury by police”.
These acts shall be in addition to punitive damages and restitution paid.
Have you noticed there are no massive funerals with TAXPAYER FUNDED police cars/equipment and TAXPAYER PAID police saluting for the VICTIMS of police MURDERS?
Where is the recognition and apologies to the VICTIMS of their BLUNDERING???
Always remember —- these are the “HIGHLY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS” that the government says will protect you if you just be nice and give the government your guns. Police murder more Citizens every year than do terrorists.
The cowardice of hiding MURDER behind lies of “resisting arrest” and “I was in fear for my life” should immediately disqualify for life anyone from ever engaging in “law enforcement” . If you are that cowardly you should be a greeter at Walmart.
Yeah sure, the POLICE – — Currently, in the U.S., law enforcement kills around 1,200 citizens per year. Ironically, that number is actually four times higher than those who die from rifles. As has been recorded, cops have killed 450 percent more people than have died in the past forty years of mass shootings.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'It's the public, quick, hide the (records of the) bodies!'

Days before they would be forced to allow the public access to use of force records they destroy those records, ones they’d had no problem at all keeping until the public was to be granted access? They couldn’t have shouted ‘We are guilty as hell!’ more if they’d put a thug with a bullhorn on city hall yelling it.

Much like destroyed evidence in a court is assumed to be and treated as negative for the one who destroyed it anything and everything they destroyed should be considered to have been incriminating against them, with the council that okay-ed the last-minute destruction implicated as well.

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